I dropped this idea on Twitter and Facebook and immediately received some hot responses. I expected it of course, because the idea is so ingrained in people that we don’t ever stop to think about it. In a perfect world – absolutely, that’s the way I’d love things. You do great works or minister to people; and then support, community, donor dollars – whatever, will flow in. After all, it sounds so noble and spiritual. But it’s just not true and here’s why:
In an earlier time, it might have actually been true, and that’s probably what started the saying or meme. 30 or 40 or more years ago, there wasn’t much competition out there in the non-profit or religious space – especially in the media. In the late sixties and early seventies, Oral Roberts’ prime time specials were pulling in more viewers that most prime time network shows today. Billy Graham could pack any arena in America. But then something happened – cable TV. Channels splintered into the hundreds, then the Internet opened up, and now iPods, mobile phones, and more. As a result, we live in the most distracted culture in the history of the world.
What does that have to do with money and ministry? Plenty. Today, there are a multitude of voices crying out for your support and donor dollars. I can turn on the TV and within 5 minutes find a program asking me to feed the hungry, build water wells, stop human trafficking, and more. (And that doesn’t count the clutter from the con artists offering all the Jesus Junk products like anointed oil vials, personal prophecies, etc.).
Today, viewers, supporters, congregations, and donors are simply overwhelmed. We call it “donor fatigue.” Plus, we’re facing a new generation that grew up on Napster and think everything they see or hear should be free. The idea of actually responding with support doesn’t even occur to most of them.
As a result, I’ve seen hundreds of great, effective, and committed ministry and non-profit organizations go out of business. They did great work. Ministered to thousands. Changed people’s lives. Wonderful, godly people. And still went under.
Why? Because money just doesn’t necessarily follow ministry. If the myth works for you, great, but it doesn’t work for the majority of well-intentioned and dedicated people on the front lines of ministry. I have discovered that most of the people that defend the concept have really small ministries where significant funding isn’t really needed. But step out to make a huge difference in the world, and you’ll see what I mean.
So what’s the lesson? God is soverign and He can do what he wants. But read your Bible – there’s something for us to do as well. It means that you have to tell people what to do. Give them an opportunity to support your work. Invite them to be on your team. Don’t just assume that once they’ve been touched by your efforts, they’ll automatically get on board. To impact or minister to people and then walk away expecting them to automatically respond is a death wish.
Absolutely minister first. Do what you say you’ll do. Change people’s lives. But don’t end there. Take the next step and give them the opportunity respond, because if you don’t, you’ll find that bankruptcy follows ministry.